How to apply for the Air Force Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP)

I have been meaning to write this post for a while, and I recently got an email that spurred me to just write it. The question was when and how to apply to the Air Force Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP). So, here goes! A basic rundown of how to apply to HPSP.

Image courtesy of the US Air Force.

Image courtesy of the US Air Force.

Who should I talk to?

You should talk to a Health Professions recruiter, NOT a regular recruiter. The health professions recruiting process is different in a lot of ways from how the military hires, well, anyone else. Every geographic area (and every branch) should have a health professions recruiter who specifically deals with health professions students.

The Air Force just updated their recruiter search tool to make this easier for health professions folks by adding a healthcare option to their recruiter finder. Go here and check the box that says “healthcare student or professional.” (Side note: in the future, if this link stops working, please contact me using the contact link in the side bar so I can fix it!)


What is the role of the recruiter?

Honestly, the recruiter’s role is largely administrative. The recruiters are enlisted personnel who work full-time as recruiters (read: not doctors, not nurses, not officers). They may have worked in healthcare at some point as a medical technician, or they may not have. They have never been to any of the health professions officer training courses that you will attend, and they have not been to medical school/nursing school/etc. 

Why is that so important? Because they can’t tell you what it’s like to go to Commissioned Officer Training. They can’t tell you what it is like to work in a military hospital, or how the military residency match works. They just don’t know. That isn’t a knock on them, it just is not their job.

If you are selected, your recruiter will arrange for your commissioning oath, and might help you buy your uniforms and other equipment before you leave for training.


What are the requirements to be selected for HPSP?

  • You have to be accepted to medical school (or the program you are applying in, like nursing, social work, or physician assistant). You must submit an acceptance letter with your application packet. You don’t necessarily have to go to the school whose letter you submit in your packet, but the Air Force won’t earmark a scholarship for you until they know you have been accepted to a school.
  • You have to be physically qualified to commission as an officer. What does this mean? In general terms, it means you have to be healthy with no chronic conditions. Famous deal-breakers include asthma and any psychiatric conditions of any kind.
  • Previous surgeries aren’t necessarily a deal-breaker, but you will have to submit medical records to explain every scar you have. These records will have to be reviewed to determine if you will qualify for a waiver.
  • You will have to take a drug test.
  • As of when I applied, at least, the Air Force was giving out scholarships in two ways. First choice goes to people who meet a minimum GPA requirement and, if I remember correctly, a minimum MCAT score. (Forgive me, it was a while ago…) If you meet the minimum requirements, you can send your packet to the board as soon as you have an acceptance letter in hand. 
  • If you don’t meet the minimum GPA requirements, you submit your packet to the board in February. Any scholarships that are left after the “fully qualified” folks get their scholarship are given out to the board in February.
  • Since the board meets in February, if you haven’t gotten an acceptance letter by February, there likely won’t be any scholarships left.


When should I get in touch with a recruiter?

Plan to reach out to a recruiter in late summer of the year in which you are applying to medical school.


For the Air Force, for medical school, the application cycle looks something like this:

  • June of the year before you are planning to start medical school (i.e. your senior year of undergrad, if you are going straight through): apply to medical schools via AMCAS
  • Late summer: find the healthcare recruiter in your area and reach out to them
  • Early fall: complete HPSP application paperwork, background check, forms, etc.
  • October to February: medical school acceptance letters come out
  • February: the selection board meets and all remaining scholarships are given out


What questions should I ask the recruiter?

Ask them if you have any questions about your specific medical history – they should have a good idea what will be disqualifying.


What other questions do you have? What do you want to know about applying for HPSP?

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